Strategic Planning: Providing a Benchmark: Organizations and Their Information Centers and Libraries Need a Big, Bold Statement That Says What They're All about, What They're for, Who They're for, and Where They're Going

By Franklin, Nicola | Information Outlook, January-February 2013 | Go to article overview

Strategic Planning: Providing a Benchmark: Organizations and Their Information Centers and Libraries Need a Big, Bold Statement That Says What They're All about, What They're for, Who They're for, and Where They're Going


Franklin, Nicola, Information Outlook


Does your library or membership group really need a strategic plan? After all, the term strategic plan does sound a bit grand and rather corporate. Aren't strategic plans just for big banks and law firms?

I've worked at both a major corporation (Manpower) and in small enterprises. Some of my employers had clear strategic plans, others had some sort of plan, and a few had no plan at all. Based on my observations, I'd say that all these organizations, no matter the size, would have benefited from a good, regularly updated strategic plan.

A Big, Bold Statement

So, what is a strategic plan? First, it is distinct from a business plan. A business plan is a detailed description of the services, customers and objectives of a business, business unit or other group. It is heavy on financial data and other numeric details and is based on moving from the current situation to some future state. A business plan focuses on how the resources available to the organization are going to be managed to get you there.

A strategic plan, on the other hand, is both shorter and broader in scope than a business plan. It starts off by looking at a desired future state, irrespective of where you are now. Following are a few definitions of strategic planning that I came across while conducting research for this article:

  "... planning for growth" www.businesslink.com

  "... defining direction" Wikipedia

  "... key decisions that need to be made in order to thrive"
  www.simply-strategic-planning.com

  "... organizing the present on the basis of projections of a
  desired future" SLA Strategic Planning Handbook

  "... envisioning a desired future" www.businessdictionary.com

I particularly like the last of these as a place to start. A strategy is a big, bold statement--it says what your organization is all about, what it's for, who it's for, and where it's going. The planning part has to do with how to move toward your vision or ultimate goal.

The leading guru of corporate strategic planning is Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management studies at McGill University in Montreal. In one of his seminal works (Mintzberg 1994), he made the point that strategic planning can get too formalized, with the emphasis on planning instead of on thinking. He advocates adopting a broad vision that can and does adapt to changing environments.

If you read some management text-books and articles, you will soon notice that there are many methods and models you can use to "do" strategic planning: goal-based, issue-based, scenario planning, the organic model, the driver's model, and so on. If you look closely, however, you'll notice they tend to have the same elements in common. Some contain them all, some pick and mix, some are more formalized, but there are more similarities than differences among them. For simplicity's sake, I'll try and synthesize them into one description.

To create a vision for your organization--that is, to envision a desired future for it--you need two things. First, you need to have a clear picture of the organization's mission and values. What does the organization stand for, and what does it believe in? Second, you need an appreciation of the external environment. What is going on around the organization, and what are the key trends that will affect it over the next few years?

Creating a Strategic Vision

What does a strategic vision look like? It is a short statement (only a paragraph or two) that sets out where the leaders and/or managers envision the organization being in a few years' time. A strategic vision for a library association might look like this:

  In 3-4 years' time, AnyGroup will have a membership of [number of
  members] drawn from across the [geographic region] area, and a
  membership income of [monetary amount]. It will be offering online
  education programs, a virtual and physical seminar and conference
  program, networking events, and learning resources to support
  continuing professional development of its members. 

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